Checking out the Rockies

Posted By on February 22, 2011 8:39 am

I’m at Salt River Fields (picture here), the new spring home of the Rockies and DBacks, and it’s pretty darn awesome. The Rockies’ clubhouse is palacial. Tons of room for everything (except a media work room). It’s also right next door to the casino, which is a definite plus. Anyway, you don’t care about that. What you care about is whether the Rockies will be better than the Giants this year.

It’s going to be close, for sure. I think the Rockies definitely had more go wrong for them last year, so I think they are more likely to go up than down.

We all assume that the Giants have better pitching, and they do, but it’s not as dramatic as you’d think.

Tim Lincecum vs. Ubaldo Jimenez is probably pretty close to a push. Maybe a slight edge to Lincecum, because he’s done it a couple more years, but Jimenez was pretty awesome last year. People saw that he slumped in the second half, but he still finished with a 2.88 ERA, including 2.63 on the road. Lincecum’s ERA was 3.43 last year, 3.17 on the road.

Jonathan Sanchez is pretty similar to Jorge De La Rosa. Last year De La Rosa was very good in the second half. He also missed 13 starts last year because of an injury, so the Rockies will be better if he’s healthy.

The Rockies third best starter, not necessarily their No. 3, is Jhoulys Chacin (3.28 ERA). The 23-year-old performed pretty similarly to Madison Bumgarner (3.00), considering the ballparks. Bumgarner may have a higher ceiling, but he is also a question mark because of his increase in innings last year.

The difference is the Rockies have two back-end guys, Jason Hammel and Aaron Cook, while the Giants just have Barry Zito. I’d say all three of those guys figure to be worse than average, but not awful, big league starters.

Yes, I left out Matt Cain. He’s the difference.

The Rockies can nearly match the Giants in the 1, 3, 4 and 5 spots. The biggest difference is they have two No. 5s and no No. 2 (to compare with Cain).

As for the bullpen, the Rockies didn’t pitch as well as the Giants last year, but the Rockies had closer Huston Street face some injury issues last year, so I expect he’ll be better. They also added Matt Lindstrom. Between Street, Rafael Betancourt and Lindstrom, that’s three guys who can close. The Giants are going to lean heavily on Brian Wilson to maintain his performance and hope that career-year guys like Santiago Casilla, Rafael Ramirez and Javy Lopez can do it again. No sure thing.

So, as a whole, I’d say the Giants pitching staff still gets an edge, but not a huge one. Can it be enough to make up for the fact that the Rockies have a better corps of position players (see any match for Tulowitzki and CarGo in SF?) and they play much better defense?

We’ll see.

By the way, I also think the Dodgers are going to be better this year, but that’s for another day.


10 Responses to “Checking out the Rockies”

  1. Pat says:

    I enjoy your work, and appreciate hearing your opinion. However, I can’t figure out why you don’t ever give the Giants credit for their defense? Throughout last year (including the spring), you mentioned how bad the Giants fielding is/was, yet they have been one of the top fielding teams in the league each of the last two years.

    The Giants are a very solid defensive team. As for the Rockies, while Tulo is fantastic at short, they have major question marks elsewhere up the middle. The Giants are much better defensively at second base, catcher, and centerfield.

  2. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Well, Andres Torres does help the Giants defense significantly from what I expected it to be last spring or what it was early last season. That said, I think Dexter Fowler is also a very good center fielder, so I think that may be a push. I’ll give the Giants second base, but only because the Rockies don’t know who their second baseman is going to be. I’ll give you catcher too.

    The Giants actually aren’t hurt by their defense as much as they could be if they had different pitchers. They have a lot of flyball pitchers, so they aren’t burned by their infield defense that badly.

    Anyway, these comparisons are all just for fun. It’s not like the standings are determined by position-by-position matchups.

  3. Pat says:

    Last season, the Giants defense was clearly better… and that was with Clint Barmes playing second base almost half the year. No matter who plays second this year for the Rockies, they can’t hold a candle to Barmes defensively. It will be particularly ugly if Eric Young plays second.

    As for the Giants, they get a little worse with Tejada instead of Uribe, but it’s a wash because Sandoval will be much better in the field than last year.

    In Baseball Reference’s Defense Efficiency rankings, the Giants were the fourth best in all of baseball in 2010 while the Rockies were 23rd. What did the Rockies do this offseason to close that big of a gap and suddenly become “much better” than the Giants?

  4. Jeff Fletcher says:

    As I said, the Giants defensive efficiency is misleading because they have fly ball pitchers and the outfield was much better than the infield.

  5. Pat says:

    So, you’re saying there aren’t any fielding stats that can accurately measure how good the Giants defense is?

    Even if these stats were “misleading” as you say, the Giants have the same pitchers coming back this year from last year. How is the Rockies defense “much better”?

  6. Jeff Fletcher says:

    First, I don’t believe any of the current defensive stats are entirely accurate.

    Second, the discussion of who’s defense is better is fun, but not entirely relevant to which team is better, which is what matters. As I said, the Giants defense fits what they need them to do. The defense is the least of the reasons I’d put the Rockies slightly ahead of the Giants at this point.

    Mainly I think the Rockies had a lot more injuries and players who underperformed last year. The Giants got pretty much the most they could reasonably expect out of most of their roster, specifically Torres, Huff and the whole bullpen.

    I just think the Rockies are more likely to go up than down, and vice versa for the Giants.

  7. Pat says:

    I’m not arguing which team is better.

    I just wanted clarification about how/why the Rockies defense is much better than the Giants?

    Saying the defensive stats aren’t entirely accurate is one thing, but you’re saying they’re completely meaningless if you think the Rockies defense is much better than the Giants.

  8. Jeff Fletcher says:

    I think they are completely meaningless. These defensive stats that everyone raves about had Fred Lewis as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, but anyone who watched him knew that wasn’t true. Kevin Towers, who is a fairly modern, and open-minded GM when it comes to advanced metrics, told me flat out that the defensive stats aren’t accurate.

    So I can’t give you a number that says the Rockies are better than the Giants, but I know they are by comparing the players. If you could choose one defense or the other for a neutral pitching staff in a neutral park, I’d take the Rockies, and I think so would most people.

  9. Luke says:

    Here is how the Rockies defense is better than the Giants…

    The Rockies have 4 players that are “Excellent” defensively: Fowler, Cargo, Tulo, and Helton (he can’t hit anymore but his glove is still incredible). All of their other players, with the exception of EY and Wiggington are average or above at their positions.

    I am not sure anyone on the Giants is excellent defensively, with Rowan most closely approaching that level. Rowan, Torres, and Sanchez are all very good fielders. Tejada is definitely a below average SS at this point.

    Man for man, I would play all 4 of the Rox excellent players over Giants players that play the same position. I would also rather have Stewart defensively at 3B over Sandoval. The only Giant I would rather have in the field is Sanchez at 2B, except when Herrera plays for the Rox. So that puts the Rox at +4 with 2 of those being wayyy better than their Giant counterparts (Tulo over Tejada and Cargo over any second outfielder the Giants have).

  10. Pat says:

    According to UZR career numbers, Fred Lewis ranks as a below average outfielder.

    I think most people would go with the Giants because all we heard from baseball people this winter is how the Giants proved that pitching and defense wins championships. If the Giants D is as poor as you’ve been saying these last few years, then they must have had the best pitching staff ever.

    If we can’t go by numbers in your book, then we have to compare position-by-position.

    The Giants are much better than the Rockies at catcher, second base, and centerfield. Just because Fowler is fast doesn’t mean he’s a good defensive outfielder. Way too many late breaks on the ball. Plus, Torres has proven to be one of top two or three defensive centerfielders in the game.

    The only huge advantage the Rockies have is at shortstop.

    Of course, the bench also plays a pivotal role, and the Giants have an excellent bench defensively. With Wigginton, Giambi, Lopez, and EY, the Rockies have a bunch of sloths in reserve.

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